Note: This is Part 2 of a five-part series on why high school graduates in the United States should skip college. If you aren’t young and you aren’t planning to go to school, that’s cool. Please read on. There is value in this piece for anyone interested in traveling.
“But H.I., you’re young and you’ve got your health, what you want with a job?”
Evelle, played by William Forsythe, from the movie Raising Arizona.
There is no better teacher than travel.
It is a masterclass in adventure, patience, culture, understanding and humanity.
As Mark Twain once wrote:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
We must see the world before we can understand it and we must experience it before we begin to find our place in it.
It’s downright silly to expect an 18 year old with a limited view of the world to know what they want to do with their life.
There is a reason why most Scandinavian countries – you know, the part of the world that had the TOP SIX happiest populations according to the 2017 World Happiness Report – encourage young people to take at least one year off to travel before attending university.
Traditional thinking might lead some people to argue that traveling is just an excuse for young people to fuck off and forget about “the real world.”
And these people (whoever they may be) would be right. But who cares?
We’re only young once. Might as well let the youngins’ smoke em’ while they’ve got em.’
There will always be time for houses and cars and bills and families and all of the responsibilities that come with adult life.
Plus, if you think about it, college is the same “fuck off and forget about the real world” experience as traveling. Very little about lush college campuses resembles “the real world.”
So, if you are a high-school student uncertain about what to do after graduation, here are a few reasons why I think long-term traveling, and not going directly to college, is the best way for you to invest your time.
1) Traveling opens your mind to the possibility that you don’t know shit
Ignorance comes from arrogance.
One of the keys to learning is the ability to that you don’t know it all. Once you do this, you will listen and receive information with an open mind.
Certainty in your beliefs or in the fact that you have it all figured out is fatal to personal growth.
Traveling makes you less certain about how much you know. It shows you just how big the world is and how little you know about it.
Every country, every culture and every new person you meet while traveling will introduce you to something new. I remember sitting in a small bar in Seoul, South Korea with two friends from Ireland. One of them had recently returned from Cambodia and they were talking about the killing fields in Phnom Penh and the Khmer Rouge.
“What?” I asked.
“You’re kidding, right?” one of them replied.
“Nope. What is the Khmer Rouge?” I asked again.
“The Khmer Rouge was a communist group in Cambodia that killed like 2 million people,” my other friend answered. “They killed anyone who was considered an intellectual. They three babies into trees, forced teenagers into labor camps… It’s considered one of the worst genocides ever.”
“Oh,” I said as I quickly sipped my beer to avoid my embarrassment.
It’s good to feel this type of “damn I am a total dummy” embarrassment.
It’s humbles you.
And this humbling is the first step towards accepting that you don’t know as much as you thought you did. Which is important because once you eliminate your own ego from the equation, your ability to learn, no matter if it is in a college classroom or in a small bar on a cold Friday night, improves greatly.
2) Traveling forces you to change
“To improve is to change, to perfect is to change often”
– Winston Churchill
As humans, we naturally avoid change. We don’t like it. We want to follow the path of least resistance and do what is familiar.
Traveling forces change.
The obvious change is the change in scenery.
But once you are traveling, unless you decide to stay in one hotel room all day and order cheeseburgers for every meal, you will eventually have to do things that are new for you.
You will sleep in strange places. You will travel differently, eat different foods and follow different cultural norms. You will be forced to do step outside your comfort zone.
And through it all, you will eventually come to the realization that “Hey, this works too.” That different isn’t so bad. That foods you might never considered trying are actually delicious. That what you feared wasn’t that scary after all. That maybe the way you do things in your country isn’t the best way.
Change is one of the only constants in life. No matter what, things will change. How you look, who your friends are, what you do for work…
Learning to be adaptable is one of keys to success in life, not matter where you go or what you do. And there is no better place to learn how to adapt than while traveling.
3) Traveling offers more (and better) experiences
We are the sum of what we experience. Each experience we have; good, bad and everything in-between; alters who we are and our perspective of the world.
So much is made of the experience of going to college. But comparing the experiences you get from attending college to the experiences you get while traveling is like comparing a little league baseball team to the 1927 New York Yankees.
There is no communications course in existence whose curriculum can replicate the experience of having to communicate with someone who speaks 0% of the same language as you.
There is no college campus whose beauty can match the streets of Lisbon or the temples of Bagan or the valleys of Patagonia.
There is no culinary class that can replicate the smells and sounds and flavors of the night markets in Thailand.
There is no humanities class that will teach empathy quite like a stroll through the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
There is no fraternity party that can match the vibe found in a Colombian salsa bar on a Saturday night.
And while dorms are fun, they have nothing on hostels. I’ve had better parties and met more interesting people staying in hostels than I ever did during my entire two years in a dorm.
Our experiences are a personal currency that we always carry with us. They are the canvas on which our brain paints our perspective of the world. The more experiences we have, the more detailed our mental painting becomes.
And in addition to having better food, better experiences and better parties, traveling is a great alternative to college because….
4) Travel toughens you up
Life is what it is. There are certain things we just cannot change.
Learning to accept what we cannot change and focus our energy on what we can is another one of those crucial life skills.
There are all kinds of frustrating things that happen to you while you are traveling. Overnighters in airports. Bus delays. Over-bookings. Lost possessions.
I have had 18 hour bus rides turn into 38 hour debacles where the entire bus of passengers ended up riding in the back of a semi-trailer.
I have had my passport stolen two days before a scheduled cross-Atlantic flight.
I have gotten deathly ill on day 2 of a 4 day trek through the Peruvian Andes and had to have a friend walk with me step-by-step to the finish line.
I have shivered myself to sleep for weeks in the freezing cold of Patagonia in a sleeping bag that ended at my shoulders.
And while each of these experiences sucked, I am a much better person because of them. I accepted the circumstances and persevered. I am tougher, more patient, more self-sufficient and calmer in the face of difficulty.
5) Traveling is twice as educational and twice as fun
I hate running. There are few things in the world I would rather do less than go for a long run. But I play basketball three times a week. And basketball involves a lot of running.
So why do I play basketball if I hate running?
Because when I play basketball I’m not thinking about the fact that I am running. I am too busy having fun. I am talking trash or playing defense or thinking about how I can get past my man to the basket.
This is how it is with traveling and growth.
You will grow exponentially as a person from your travels, but you will be having too much fun to even realize it.
In fact, most of the changes you see in yourself will not be realized until after your trip. There will be too many cool places to visit and new foods to try and interesting people to talk to and great parties to throw yourself into.
I have yet to meet one person who has regretted their decision to move abroad or to go travel. None. It just doesn’t happen.
Because traveling is the shit.
Here is my final point.
I have yet to talk with an elderly person about my travels and have them respond negatively. Their responses are almost always along the lines of:
“Oh, how interesting. Good for you.”
“You go do it, enjoy your time being young.”
So for all 18-year olds out there without a post high-school plan, stop worrying about having a plan for life and take a couple years to just enjoy it.
You are as young, energetic, attractive and physically fit as you may ever be. Don’t waste this gift.
You won’t be able to hike or surf or party in your 60’s like you can in your 20’s. You won’t be able to date or dance in your 60’s as you can in your 20’s. Your youth is a fleeting commodity. Make the most of it.
To get started, there are really only two things you need to do.
- Save money
You gotta have cash to travel. But you don’t need a lot. In fact, traveling cheap money is sometimes better. It will force you to get out of your comfort zone more and to be more creative with how you get around.
If money is really tight, there are fantastic websites such as – https://www.workaway.info/ – that connect volunteers with hosts from around the world. The idea is that you volunteer in exchange for free room and board. Jobs range from working the front desk at a hostel in Ibiza to harvesting the wine fields of Mendoza, Argentina to helping to build a deck for a hostel in Budapest.
Facebook groups are also a great way to find volunteering jobs. In almost any South American country you can type in “Voluntario” followed by the name of a country and you will find a Facebook group where volunteering positions are posted daily.
I have met numerous people who have traveled long-term (1 year +) simply working volunteer job to volunteer job. They save a small nest egg of money, select a place that interests them, work for 2-3 months in that place and then move on to the next destination. In-between jobs, they will take some time to explore the regions that they are in.
The hardest step will be to go.
You will not be alone in feeling this way. Myself and every other person who has gone abroad has felt this way. This feeling of fear is a good thing. It means you are breaking through the atmosphere of your own comfort zone.
Do not be overly picky about where you go and try not to plan too much. Find a place that interests you and go. The travel gods favor decisiveness.
And if you ever find yourself doubting your decision to travel, remember that you can always come back. Or leave. You are not signing up for a tour of duty in Afghanistan. If you travel someplace and don’t like it, just move on. If you travel and find that you actually hate traveling, you can always go right back home.
But at least you’ll be able to say you went for it.
Below is a list of websites, apps and resources to hopefully help you on your travels.
Yourself – You will learn more from talking with other travelers than you ever will from a blog. Be friendly at hostels. Ask lots of questions. Travelers are cool people and will be happy to share some inside tips.
Google Maps – Most people don’t know this because they live in a world of perpetual 4G data, but Google Maps actually works offline.
Maps.me – Fantastic GPS app that works offline, in case you do not have a data plan in the city you are in. I have literally used this app to navigate off-road trekking trails in Patagonia. It is incredible. You simply download the regional map for each new country or city you go to, and bam, you are set.
Here WeGo Offline Maps – Self-explanatory. Another great offline maps service.
Google Translate – Self-explanatory.
WhatsApp – WhatsApp is the messaging app of choice for most of the world. It is completely free and works with WI-FI. Download it. Use it.
Uber – Uber may the most controversial ride-sharing app, but it is the most widely adopted. It is often one of the safest and cheapest transportation services in many countries. My average cross-city Uber ride in Medellin, Colombia is $3.
**It is important to note that Uber is illegal in many countries but still somehow operational (???) You will likely be asked to sit in the front seat and pretend you are a friend of the driver if the police ask any questions.**
Rome2Rio – “Discover how to get anywhere by plan, train, bus ferry and automobile. Planes, trains, buses and boats.” Rome2Rio is a multi-modal transport search engine. It will provide you with different options and pricing for how to get from one place to the next.
The Internet – If you are curious about traveling to a specific place, do what all seasoned travelers do. Google it. Travel blogs are helpful. The ones with less personal information are usually more reliable. Try to read a couple different posts by different travelers. Here are a couple of travel blogs I particularly like:
https://www.thebrokebackpacker.com/ – Great travel site with spot-on advice and extensive travel guides. A LOT of useful information for budget travelers.
https://www.danflyingsolo.com – Another great travel blog with advice on some far-out locations. The owner of the site has a good outlook and solid traveling advice.
https://www.nomadicmatt.com/ – Great travel blog with in-depth travel guides on places all over the world.
https://passionpassport.com – This website is fantastic. It has an extensive collection of in-depth travel guides. It has cool photos. It also has cool series like the “featured Instagram traveler of the week” that allow you to briefly meet regular, everyday travelers.
PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES
https://www.skyscanner.com – Skyscanner is a website for booking cheap flights. A staple site to check for flights for almost all seasoned travelers.
https://www.momondo.com/ – Similar to Skyscanner, Momondo is a great site to use when searching for flights.
https://www.kiwi.com – Again, another great site to use to book cheap flights. They also have a nomad option that can help you to book flights for a long-term trip with several destinations
https://www.scottscheapflights.com – All in the name. One more fantastic site for booking cheap international flights.
https://www.Rome2Rio.com – Rome2Rio is a website designed to help you plan trips. The site can provide a combination of bus, train and ferry combinations to get you were you need to go. In my opinion, it is silly to have a detailed itinerary when traveling. But Rome2Rio can help find creative traveling options when in a pinch.
https://www.busbud.com/en – Great website for finding and booking buses anywhere in the world.
https://www.Hostelworld.com – The world’s premier website for booking hostels. If you are under 27, DO NOT stay in hotels while traveling. They are expensive and waaaaayyy less fun. Hostels are incredible places to meet other travelers and pick up tips for the road. Fuck what you have seen in movies. Hostels are great. Buy beers, smile, ask questions and watch the magic happen.
https://www.AirBnB.com – If you are looking for something a little more private than a shared dorm in a hostel, AirBnB is your best bet. You can find individual rooms in many countries for as little as $12 a night. Try to stay with local families. Often, your hosts will help to enhance your experience.
https://www.homestay.com/ – Is a great site for finding… yep, you guessed it.. home stays. Again, another cool way to meet locals and have a more authentic experience.
https://www.workaway.info/ – An amazing site for finding volunteer working opportunities abroad. The most common arrangement is labor for free room and board. Working different jobs through this site can be a great way to meet people and get to know some locals from the places you visit.
https://www.facebook.com/groups/slowtravelvolunteer/ – This is a very active Facebook group that posts volunteering job openings in countries all over the world. The typical arrangement with most postings is room and board in exchange for free labor.
https://www.trustedhousesitters.com – By far the largest and most trusted site for house-sitting. Looking for a cool way to live abroad for free? Try working as a house-sitter. People pay good money to have someone look after their home and/or pets while they jet-set around the world. The sign-up fee is a little high, but think, if you are able to stay someplace for free for only one month, you will have easily saved $300.
https://www.transitionsabroad.com/ – TranstionsAbroad has all sorts of wonderful information about working, interning, living or studying abroad.
https://www.cheapestdestinationsblog.com/ – This website has great info on how to live and travel for cheap in different places around the world.
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